Home Schooling

My hope with this post is that parents who have made the choice to home-school their children will feel supported, parents who are considering home-schooling will feel inspired, and that people who are unsure about home-schooling as a viable option to education will start to see its potential!

NOTE: I asked my mom, Rineke, to look this over and share her comments with me and I’ve decided to add them here. They are in red. 

As you may know, I was home-schooled as a child, and would love to add my story to the World Wide Web in support of the beautiful thing that home-schooling can be.

I loved home-schooling!

Here is my home-schooling career (as a kid!) in a rather big nutshell:

My Family in 1985

Elementary School Years:

I went to pre-school when I was 4 and had a lot of fun. When I turned 5, I started kindergarten and I walked to school every morning with my friend Jenny. I have very vivid memories of this year, and I think it is because my public school years were so few that they stand out as something special. I enjoyed parts of kindergarten, and other parts were less than the best.

My mom was not happy with sending me to school, and it was after my kindergarten graduation that she decided to keep me and my three younger siblings home to home-school us. And so I enjoyed the life of a happy home-schooled kid, full of sunlit afternoons, imagination filled hours, and rich life experience that finds me today as an adult who is still passionate about learning and growing. Rineke: I was not happy with sending you to school because the experience started to change you.  You were this very curious, fearless little girl who had huge creative energy.  That year in kindergarten I watched you start to be cautious and look at the world with a little place of fear in you that you would do things wrong.  This made me very sad.  You didn’t lose your sparkle but I was afraid for you.

I also asked my mom who her inspiration was in her home-schooling adventure. Rineke: John Holt was my inspiration.  Back in the 1960’s (I think) he wrote two books, “How Children Fail” and “How Children Learn”.  It has been a very long time but I remember that in a nutshell his theory was that children stop learning because of fear which gets instilled in them while in school, ie fear of failure, fear of being teased, fear of doing things the wrong way.  Babies and Toddlers approach the world fearlessly, and by the time they have been in school for a few years they have often lost that.  It made me very sad, especially when I started to observe this in you (when I started kindergarten.)  He eventually started a newsletter called ‘Growing Without Schooling’ which I subscribed to for a while.

Although the term “un-schooling” was not being used at that time, my brothers, sister, and I were for the most part left to play and to follow our interests, much in line with un-schooling practices being done today. Rineke: Following your interests was what guided me.  To me it was not important what you learned, what was important was that you were following your hearts.  Remember your passion to learn all about the body?  (Both my parents thought I would become a doctor. I became a health nut instead!) The beautiful wild flower books we made?  The hours we spent observing ant hills? The sewing projects?  The baking and cooking? The hours at the beach collecting crabs?  What wonderful learning that all was.

We did have quite a bit of structure during our day as well as lots of free-flow play time, but we rarely used a curriculum for our learning. There was a time when we experimented with a set curriculum created for home-schooling for about six months, but none of us, including my mom, liked it so we stopped. It was loads and loads of fill in the blanks, lots of paperwork to mail back and forth, and didn’t provide any learning opportunities that my mom and dad weren’t already creating for us.

The structure we did have included :

Meals. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner together as a family as well as two snack times between meals.

“Quiet Time” every day during the afternoon. This was a time for each of us to do something quietly on our own such as reading, drawing, or building with Lego. I loved quiet time, and still do!

Cleaning up time. We were taught to clean up after ourselves as we went, but kids are kids and so we also had a whirl-wind clean up time right before bed. We also had days when my mom would tell us that the “Madame Inspector” would be arriving to check on our rooms, so it was time to make them nice and tidy! I can remember that it felt very important to have a nice, clean room for the inspector even when I knew it was my mom behind that Madame Inspector hat, glasses, and coat.

Bed time. One of my favorite memories as a kid is being in my pajamas, cuddled up to one of my parents and all my siblings for story time before bed. My mom also sang each one of us our own special song each night, and we each got to tell her a secret before the lights went out. Bed time was never a struggle at our house and I think it was because my mom and dad made it such a special time, when they gave each one of us some special attention as they tucked us in.

I’m sure that there was more, but these are the big ones that I remember.

The rest of the day was for play, adventure, projects, play, lessons, and play!

My Family in 1988

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic!?

In addition to my parent’s large book collection, we were big library users and would come home with boxes of books at a time. My mom read to us several times a day, and we also loved listening to story tapes and following along with the book. I was reading before I turned five, and am still the biggest reader of my siblings. My sister who is still much more inclined to practice her music or do yoga than read, didn’t start reading until she was nine. My brother went from not reading at all to reading thick, adult novels overnight at the age of eight and would floor people with his amazing vocabulary. My family is testament to the understanding that all children learn to read at a different pace, and enjoy it much more if they are left to do so.

We were encouraged to write often, and had all kinds of beautiful books, paper, pens, and pencils for writing with. I do remember sitting down and practicing the alphabet, cursive writing, and spelling. We sang the alphabet together, had alphabet art hung over our art table, and had a world full of letters and words.

Numbers came to us via math workbooks but also through baking, shopping, telling time, playing number games, and daily life. It is amazing how many things we do daily that require math and numbers, almost everything in fact! My Oma (Dutch grandmother) was trained as a scientist and felt that math was very important. She created a game with multiplication that had all of my cousins and I scrambling to learn the multiplication table by heart so that we could be tested by her to earn a mystery “prize.” My younger brother was the first to win the prize, and if memory serves, the true prize was knowing how to multiply 8×5 in an instant. I can’t tell you how often I find myself using this skill in my adult life, thank you Oma!

Other activities included drawing and geometry classes from my dad, soccer, swimming, skating, horse back, and music lessons, sewing, dying fabric and wool, spinning and weaving, nature walks, wildflower pressing, book making, carving, chopping wood, board games, cloud watching, fort building, tree house building, fishing, sailing, road trips, science experiements,

When I was 11, and in grade 6, my family moved to a village with a population of 70 people on a very remote Indian Reserve in Northern B.C. My mom went back to work for the first time since my birth, teaching in the one room school house. Our family of four made up one third of the school’s 12 children! This was my first experience with public school since kindergarten (Apart from 3 months of trying out public school in grade four. I loved it but we moved to a big city and I didn’t want to go to a big city school.)

When I was 12/13, and in grade 7, my family moved to a small island with a population of 300 people. My siblings and I attended the public school, about 50 kids in size. It was an adjustment, but moving and starting a new school would be for any child.

High School Years:

When I was 13, my family moved to a bigger island and I started high school in the public school of approximately 700 teenagers. I completed two years there, grade 8 and 9, and did well with the work and got good grades.

When I was 15, my parents took all four of us out of school, and we took a year to travel. We chose Guatemala as a destination, so instead of grade 10 in public school I was exposed to a dramatically different culture and way of life. We went to language school and became almost fluent in Spanish, volunteered at an orphanage, lived on a Finca and grew coffee, beans and corn and learned how to pat out tortillas to be baked on a clay platter over an open fire.

When I was 16, I went to grade 11 for two weeks at the same school where I had attended grade 8 and 9. It was great to see old friends again, but I was not happy sitting through hours of class. By that time I was old enough to notice that it was not many hours of learning, but mostly hours of wrangling between teachers and students, and between students and students, while the rest of us waited to learn something. So, with the support of our parents, my sister and I dropped-out of high school and went to live with our dad (my parents separated when I was 15) and spent the year building ourselves a little cabin on his land.

When I was 17/18, the year I would have graduated, my dad, sister, and I set sail in September and spent the next nine months exploring coastal USA, Mexico, the open Pacific Ocean, and French Polynesia. Words can not express how much I loved this trip! One day I hope to set sail again, with my husband and our children….


My Family in 2002. All of us with high school diplomas or equivalency!

The following year, when I was 18, I moved in with my Grandmother and attended a self-paced adult education program. It took me six months to get all the credits I needed to start college, which I did the following year.

After several years of working and experimenting with different possibilities, I settled on a Bachelor of Fine Art from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. I got straight A’s the whole way through, had a blast, and would love to go back to university some day just for the fun of learning with a community so passionate about education and growth.

Yes, it is possible for a home-schooled, high-school drop-out to go to university and graduate with straight A’s!

Phew, you made it through my nutshell!

What Will These Kids do For Work!?

One concern that seems to come up a lot around homeschooling, especially when it is done  with out a standard curriculum  as my family did, is “What will these kids do for a living when they grow up? Who will want to hire them!?”

Well, I don’t know what any kid is going to do for a living when they grow up, but looking at the recent un-employment rates for university graduates, I would be more worried about them than kids who are home-schooling!

I do know that every kid I grew up with who was home-schooled is currently employed, as far as I know. Here are a few examples

One of them is a cellist for the Del Sol String Quartet in San Francisco (She did a Masters degree in music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, on scholarships.)

One of them is the owner of a successful raw food cafe in Victoria, B.C. (yes, that would be my sister.)

One of them holds a Phd in math and teaches at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

One of them adores St. Bernards and runs her own successful dog breeding company, breeding St. Bernards.

One of them is head management in a Canada/USA wide house painting franchise, currently responsible for running the entire Boston area.

Home-schooled kids do the same things that publicly schooled kids do for a living: all kinds of things!

What about Un-Schooling?

I have been meaning to write about my homeschooling experience for quite some time, and was inspired to do this post now in part by a recent piece done by Good Morning America on Un-Schooling. You can watch the show here, and the follow up here. Rineke: Interesting family.  I am glad they did the follow up interview with the parents because the mom’s final comments helped me understand that her approach was not just a free for all, which is what it looked like in first segment.  I actually believe that children like boundaries and guidance and working as a family towards solutions to problems. (I agree about healthy boundaries and guidance!)

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the folks at GMA didn’t present this choice that many wise and loving parents have made for their families in a very positive light.

To tell the truth, I am not all that familiar with the philosophies and practices of un-schooling, but as far as I can tell it is just another term for one of the many ways that parents choose to home-school their children. There are so many different ways to home-school, from the family that closely follows a set curriculum in a special room created to be the classroom, to families like mine where there are lessons and workbooks fitted organically into the day, to the radical new un-schoolers!

Some Closing Thoughts on Homeschooling:

As a kid, I knew that my siblings and I were doing something different than most other kids. But it was no different to me then than the choice to take horseback riding lessons over soccer.

In other words, it wasn’t a big deal, it was just what my family and I liked to do. I was friends with both home-schooled and public-schooled kids, and we all had lots of fun together just being kids. The way I remember it, the fact that my family didn’t watch TV made me stand out amongst other kids more than the fact that I was home-schooled. My guess is that a kid attending public school in New York City and a kid attending public school on Salt Spring Island would have far and away a more different experience than a home schooled kid and a publicly schooled kid both living in the same town.

The home-schooling “gap” disappears even more in adulthood. Chances are that you have met a home-schooled adult and didn’t even know it! I certainly don’t go around introducing myself as a kid who was home-schooled!

My Family in 2003 (the most recent digital photo I have of all of us together!)

The point of all this story telling of mine is that we have to look deeper, much deeper than the titles that we give ourselves and each other such as “home-schooled.”

I think the key to a happy, healthy child growing into a happy, healthy adult (because that is what this is really all about) is to be parented by a happy, healthy parent! The distinctions between un-schooled, home-schooled, public-schooled, private-schooled, or other, become less important when we realize the magic of good parenting with its many different faces.

Just as there are kids who succeed with home-schooling, there are kids who succeed with public schooling. Just as I know plenty of glowing examples of home-school success, I know plenty of glowing examples of public school success!

When it comes right down to it, the choice to home-school is a choice that is not much different than the choice to send your kids to a private Catholic school, public school, Waldorf school, or the local alternative public school (more and more communities are coming together to create publicly funded alternatives to public school, as seen in Phoenix Elementary here on the island.)

As with any decision, you decide what works best for your children, for you, and for your family, and you do that!

Now that I’ve written such a long post concluding that it is parenting, not homeschooling, that makes the difference, I will have to write another post about just why home-schooling can be so AMAZING, special, magical, and an absolute gift to both parents and children. But perhaps that one can wait until I have some home-schooling experience from the mothering side of things under my belt:)


Reflections of the weekend…..

It was a glorious weekend. The sun came out to play…

My mom leaped playfully into her 59th year….

My sisters came to visit and Heather has a fabulous new red coat….

We had dinner and a beautiful mandarin orange/chocolate cake made by Heather, all raw, all amazing…

The next morning we went to the beach and some of us went for a winter dip in the sea…

And we had a beautiful Sunday breakfast….

Now it is Monday, and this morning as I was trying to get out the door with the diaper pail and the compost bucket with Sophia in the Ergo, somehow our beloved 50mm lens got knocked off the counter and broke in two. Here I am after putting Sophia down for a nap, attempting for a second time to take the diapers to the wash and empty the compost, 50mm lens-less.

Oh well. I will continue to enjoy my love affair with photography with out a 50mm for awhile….I really have been LOVING getting back into photography. After a brief period of photography seriousness in my late teens and early twenties (lessons in cameras and darkrooms), I started using a point and shot and didn’t think much of it. This year my plan is to take my photography skills to the next level, and I am starting with a commitment to Project 365. I am now 25 days into it and loving everything I am learning. My project is getting me actively shooting pictures daily, and the best lessons often come from action.

I have been spending WAY too much time on Flickr, wandering around in other people’s colorful photo gardens, finding inspiration, insight, and more than a touch of vicarious emotion. I love that about photography, its ability to speak soundlessly yet so crystal clear.

In my Flickr adventures I came across this glorious set of photographs titled  “Unschooled”

Being from a family of four myself, all of us home-schooled for most of our school years, this beautiful album was a joy to find. It reminded me of what an amazing childhood I had, exploring, playing, dreaming, creating, studying bugs….. I highly recommend it to anyone who is inclined to keep their children out of the school system. David and I are planning on home-schooling Sophia and any other children we may be blessed with…more to come on the topic of home-schooling later.

David is still in Vancouver and I keep forgetting to ask him about his Cacao D’Arco Rain recipe (can I share it my love?) Our time on Skype has been pre-occupied with much more important, and I could even say sweeter things…. He gets home on Wednesday, I’ll ask him then.

Sweet dreams!